Shelby Rogers returns to Ashleigh Barty during the third round...

Shelby Rogers returns to Ashleigh Barty during the third round of the U.S. Open tennis tournament at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on Saturday. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

How messed up is this? Shelby Rogers has been abused for complaining about abuse.

After making frank comments on Monday about the death threats and body-shaming messages she expected to receive online after losing a U.S. Open round-of-16 match to Great Britain’s Emma Raducanu, Rogers received so much blowback on Twitter that she had to tweet out a clarification.

"It wasn’t the intention for my 1 exaggerated statement to be highlighted – I just always try to answer the press truthfully," the American tweeted. "The amount of positive support I get vastly overshadows the online abuse but it’s important to be aware that it does exist so that we can prepare & deal with it."

Tennis --- and sports in general – seems to be struggling with how to deal with the burgeoning number of negative messages aimed at its athletes.

A 12-month study by Pickwise released in August, revealed that Lakers star LeBron James received 122,568 abusive messages on Twitter or an average of 336 per day. British soccer star Marcus Rashford received the second most, Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady came in third and Nets forward Kevin Durant was fourth. No female athlete cracked the top 10, though that’s likely because female athletes receive less attention – both positive and negative – than male athletes do.

Female athletes, however, often received a different sort of abuse, according to a 2020 BBC study. Women are more likely to receive comments on their appearance and sexist remarks questioning their right to play and get paid for playing sports.

Sloane Stephens said in an Instagram post that she received more than 2,000 abusive messages and comments after her third-round loss to Angelique Kerber at the U.S. Open on Friday night. She shared several of the messages which included racial slurs, misogynistic comments and threats of sexual abuse.

"This type of hate is so exhausting and never-ending," Stephens wrote. "This isn’t talked about enough, but it really freaking sucks."

Rogers first spoke about her abuse in her post-match news conference Monday.

"I'm going to have 9 million death threats and whatnot," the American said. "At this point in my career, I'd say I'm used to it."

In an email to Newsday, the WTA Tour said this week it "takes the abuse seriously" and the number of players affected is on the rise. They said they are working with social media companies to "find ways of curtailing the harassment."

The WTA has hired Theseus, a risk and management company, to educate and support athletes.

"Theseus and the WTA work with the social media platforms to shut down accounts when warranted, and if applicable, local authorities are notified," said the WTA. "Working with Theseus allows the WTA and the players to take the most appropriate action, while enabling WTA players to safely keep their social media accounts and use them to communicate and share exciting highlights, stories and news to their fans."

And therein lies the rub. Athletes can’t ignore social media because they often have contracts with sponsors who want them to have a big online presence.

"It's a big part of marketing now, we have contracts, we have to post certain things," Rogers said. "I don't know, you could probably go through my profile right now, I'm probably a fat pig and, you know, words that I can't say right now. But, I mean, it is what it is. You try not to take it to heart, and it's the unfortunate side of any sport and what we do.

"I kind of wish social media didn’t exist."